Tailspin. What’s Really Happening to America.

415Xo+roy8L._AC_US218_I have spent hours on the beach this summer reading and re-reading a new book by Steven Brill called Tailspin. The full title is actually Tailspin: The People and Forces Behind America’s Fifty-Year Fall – and Those Fighting to Reverse It. That’s a mouthful. The book is clearly not a sweeping saga of lust and intrigue that makes for good beach reading. In fact it was tough reading. More like a college course. Good for you, but hard work.

Reading and understanding concepts like Credit Default Swaps, Glass-Steagall Act, PACs, Citizens United, regulations etc. is very tough duty. It makes most people’s eyes glaze over, mine included. In fact, that’s the point. One of the key points of the book is that our economy and society has been changed by those who have taken the time and have the resources to work the “rules” that are far too complicated for us mere mortals to understand. Then through their resources, they push their agendas to their outer limits while building moats around themselves.

To be clear, this is not a book merely bashing our current administration (worthy of bashing though it may be). In fact, it lays out the underlying forces over the past 50 years that got us to where we are now. Over the past fifty years we have had 9 Presidents—6 Republican (Nixon, Ford, Reagan, 2 Bushes and Trump) and 3 Democrats (Carter, Clinton, Obama). 30 years with a Republican President, 20 with a Democrat. So there’s plenty of “blame” to go around for the creation of our current environment. But clearly the current administration is not blameless and Brill is harsh in his thoughts on the shortsightedness of the current thinking.

The underlying issue of Tailspin is that the “game of life” is rigged and we all know it. It always was and always will be. Those with advantages–monetary, family, education, connections, etc– win far more often. Such is life. However, there was a time where there was a real expectation that our children would earn more than their parents. In fact, 50 years ago there was a 90% likelihood that children would out-earn their parents. Today it’s a coin flip where only 50% will out-earn their parents. That’s a BIG difference. At the same time the bottom 90% of all earners shared 68% of income in 1970, but it’s less than half today. The gap between the wealthiest and the rest of the U.S. is getting deeper and Brill comments that the 2016 study by the Stanford University Center on Poverty and Inequality reported that the “U.S. has the highest level of disposable income inequality among rich nations”. To be honest, I am a “have” and I benefit from this increasing gap, but I worry about its impact and wonder whether we are on the wrong path. I want our society to be one that is fair and not so heavily tilted to those who are “born on third base”. I was not born on third, but still benefit by a system that too heavily benefits those of means.

In Tailspin, Brill also talks about a “Moat Nation”. Here’s how he describes it:

America has increasingly become a Moat Nation, producing a parade of unfair advantages for those with the resources to deploy knowledge workers to build and fortify their moats while contributing to the overall decline of the economy.

These moats matter. By blocking accountability for irresponsible conduct that undermines the common good and by creating an overall sense among the vast majority of Americans that the deck is stacked against them, they have sabotaged the idea of a United States of America. They are the metaphorical, as well as the physical, opposite of bridges.

Brill’s final thoughts are that it will ultimately be necessary for America to storm the moats and retake their democracy. He claims it will get worse before it gets better.

Brill concludes: “This will not be a revolution of those on the left against those on the right. It will be about the unprotected demanding that the protected become responsible and accountable, whether they are executives shielded by their corporate structures, their lawyers, their lobbyists, and their financial engineers; civil servants protected by work rules that need to be fixed and by the public’s inattention; corporations hiding behind arbitration clauses or the First Amendment; or members of Congress protected by gerrymandering and PACs. It will be a revolution that demands everyone be personally accountable for what they do and share in their responsibility for the common good.”

The key thought is we need to move beyond the winner/loser paradigm that is pervasive in our nation. When the poor and middle class win, all Americans win. Many need a helping hand, a decent job, reasonably priced healthcare, opportunities for themselves and their children, and a system that allows the American Dream of yesteryear to live again.

Read Tailspin. It’s worth the time.

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  1. Mac West says:

    Thanks for sharing Lonny. Some rather critical concepts here!

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